There is, in existence, photographic documentation of a certain someone dancing on a table-top–all dolled up in a red pleather outfit, complete with black platform shoes and painfully straightened, stripper-white hair–powerfully channeling their inner-Britney.
And I’m not referring to Caleb.
As a mother, I talk a big game about the virtues of restraint, and purity, wisdom, and patience. (“Look at that scandalous Miley Cyrus! I will have none of that twerking!”) But as a 21-year-old girl, I was the picture-perfect poster-child of what not to do EVER AT ALL.
At least 4 nights a week, I would leave my house at 10:30 p.m. in the most skank-tastic clothing mankind had ever created. My friends and I would go out. I’d hike my skirt up to get in the door. I’d flirt with the bartender to hold my jacket and purse. Drinks were always free and I never turned one down. I power-tripped out of my mind, knowing I could start mortal combat with a wink of a smokey eye. By 2:00, I’d duck out and speed off drunkenly into the night, laughing maniacally to myself because I totally (accidentally) stabbed a cop in the eye with a straw. Upon arrival home I would eat 4 Oreo cookies and watch CMT for 30 minutes. Then I’d wake up at 7, pack Cheyenne’s lunch, and send her off to kindergarten like the *awesome* mom that I was.
I loved every minute of my life.
Except for the hangovers. And except for the fact that anyone who took me on a date assumed I would be alright with a stop at Waffle House on the way back to their place. (I was not.) Apparently, no one wants to get serious with the girl who wears red pleather to nightclubs.
“If you wear low-cut tops to attract a man, you’re going to attract a man who likes to look at cleavage.” –I don’t know who said this but it’s solid gold truth.
And the hangovers started to suck harder. And the boys started to get meaner. And the attention I got was unwanted. And my self-esteem got lower. By the beginning of 2002, I was a certified mess. My parents were (rightfully) beyond frustrated with me. I’d lost my most best friend. I was certain that God was plotting all kinds of hellfire and whatnot to rain down on my bleach-blond head. I crushed my own soul with rash decisions and a very negative thought process.
In February, I met Caleb. I’m not proud to say we met in a bar. I wasn’t my most charming, demure, virtuous self. Heck, I wasn’t even at the top of my other game–but Caleb saw something in me. And when he looked at me, he looked at my eyes. And he shook my hand. And he talked to me as someone who wanted to have an actual conversation with someone else would talk. And he called me on my way home to make sure I was getting there okay. And he called me every single day after that.
It was pure craziness, that’s what it was. For a long time I just could not believe this guy–nobody could be that nice for that long for no reason. Nobody called just to talk. No one took me to nice restaurants. No one held doors open for me. No one asked about my daughter with genuine interest. How could a man like that even be real–and want to date me of all people?
We saw each other all the time. My dad stayed on my case constantly–I partied too much, I stayed out too late. I was going to wind up in trouble, and he was probably right. But I didn’t care. Though our dates were often alcohol-fueled and slightly less than honorable, Caleb made me feel like I was somebody special, and I was in freaking heaven.
Caleb wanted to know everything about me: about my childhood, my family, my plans for the future. He cooked me dinner and massaged my feet. He invited me to go out with his friends. He framed and hung my drawing assignments on his walls.
He was too good to be true. One night I asked him, point-blank: “Why are you so nice to me?”
“Huh?” he said. “What do you mean?”
“You. You’re ridiculously nice to me. Why? What do you want?”
“Still not following.”
“I don’t deserve the way you treat me.” And I may or may not have cried when I said that (but probably not, because I was a stone-cold gangster fox who showed no emotion).
“Yes, you do. You do deserve to be treated this way. And you’d better remember that.”
To this day I have no doubt in my mind that my sweet Caleb would say that to any girl. He has been in his share of trouble–for sure–but his particular tone and his words to me that night embedded themselves in my heart.
So when Caleb told me to stop dressing like a hooker, I packed the pleather away and rocked tight black pants instead. When he said I didn’t need to drink so much, I opted out of the tequila shots and stuck with my customary 5 beers. And when Caleb said we didn’t have to go clubbing every weekend, we bought a bottle of wine and watched Blockbuster movies at home until midnight.
My friends were annoyed. They complained that I was changing for Caleb, a fun-sucking control freak who never let me do anything cool anymore.
But here’s the other thing of it: If Caleb said I was a good artist, then I painted my most beautiful paintings to date. If Caleb said I was patient, I suddenly became very patient. If Caleb said he loved me, well then damn it, I must be okay.
I realize we had a long way to go on the partying front. I know our behavior during the first 5…6…7, or 8 years of our relationship could have used a whole lot more Jesus and a whole lot less alcohol. But we do change for the people we love–more importantly, for the people who love us, despite everything we’ve done to not deserve it.
I am by no means intentionally comparing Caleb to Jesus, but go with me on this tiny journey if you will:
Jesus loves us more than we could possibly understand. He looks at us in our hoochie-mama get-ups. He knows about the table-top dancing. He sees us when we’re crying in our car after the party’s over, when we’re hurting and no one else cares. He is with us when we are on our knees, throwing up, and overcome with fear and loneliness and sadness and hopelessness.
He does not laugh or point or hate us–He has compassion for us in our pain, even when it is self-induced. He treats us with gentle kindness no matter what we’ve done or what we’ve been through. We’re never not good enough to be in His arms. He holds us and looks in our eyes and whispers these almost-unbelievable words: “You are so special to me. You are my child. And you do deserve so much more.”
“The Son of God became man to enable men to become sons of God.” –C.S. Lewis
And then He tells us we can be different. We don’t have to do these things that cause ourselves (and others) so much grief. We need not be starved for love and affection. We don’t have to be slaves to food or alcohol or drugs or sex.
In fact, not only does Jesus tell us we have the ability to change, He actually calls us to change. And because He tells us we are patient, He gives us patience. He gives us courage. He gives us hope.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” –John 8:11
The very idea of this kind of love is banana-nut-muffins to some, especially when they’ve never gotten a glimpse of it from another person in their lives.
Even when I’m thinking with my logical brain (hit-and-miss, people), it’s hard for me to understand it. In a way, I feel like I get little grasp on the concept of this unconditional love through my relationship with Caleb. Though he’s not perfect, my husband has always treated me with love and respect. And no matter how many little things I do to push his buttons, or how many times I royally mess up, he has always shown me forgiveness.
Jesus willingly suffered and died for us. He was beaten and bloodied for our sake. At any given point, the true son of God could have come down from the cross–but He saw me, with my red pleather pants and mascara running down my face, in all my sin and shame and sadness–and He stayed on that cross and He died. There is nothing I can say or do in response to this sacrifice except to be everything He says I am, because He says I can.